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Is Magnesium A Superior Bike Frame Material… When Compared to Carbon Fiber?

Trigger (heh) warning: This is some funny $#!+. Read at your peril. If you’re allergic to laughter and happiness. Err somethin’. Anyway, without further ado:

So sayeth Ollie at GCN, that magnesium could be the new frame material of choice for frame building. It’s plentiful, easy to manufacture, easy to manipulate, repair and coat… and it’s fairly light. It’s less dense than Titanium, therefore lighter, so that’s a great start.

It’s not all a bed of roses, though. Magnesium is flammable when it’s met with water. Take a little bead and drop it in some water and see what ha… you know what, don’t. Take my word (or watch the embedded video below). That, you might think, would be a problem for a cyclist getting caught in a rainstorm and having their bicycle burst into flames! Well, it’s not so disastrous, really. But it makes for a funny point.

If you’ve been following GCN’s videos of late, Ollie is very excited that magnesium is the eighth most abundant material on the planet, even more abundant than aluminum! Impressive indeed. GCN has been running the green theme for a while, now, presumably trying to be sufficiently woke that they remain relevant in today’s “we’re woker than you, and here’s why” environment (where everyone tries to out-woke the next to a point you can only win by being so woke you kill yourself to show how woke woke really is – a game I’m content losing to someone else). Where this gets fun is GCN having just done a video in which they explore the idea of running out of carbon fiber.

If you don’t get the irony, carbon is the single most abundant element on the planet. I didn’t bother watching the carbon fiber video, but presumably, while we might run out of the chemicals to make the epoxy, we won’t be running out of carbon any time soon. Hell, just the amount emanating from Washington DC would keep the bicycle industry in decent supply for the next 138-years. Give or take.

But let’s get real about this. Let’s go beyond the petty virtue signaling and posturing of which material is “better for the environment” – it’s probably magnesium, but there will be flaws that must be ignored in order to make that idea work. The dreaded trade-offs are unavoidable and I highly doubt the only one would be weight or the metal bursting into flames. Simply put, if you’re not building out of bamboo (a fully sustainable grass), they’ll be able to out-woke you. If that matters to you.

In any event, with a proper ceramic coating inside and out to keep your frame from bursting into flames should it get wet (it’s a little more stable than that, I’m being a bit facetious for fun), magnesium could be the wave of the future for bike frames, so smack my ass and call me impressed. While they did make a point of how recyclable magnesium was, they didn’t say how recyclable it would be after being coated with a ceramic-based finish… but let’s not allow reality to intrude on feeling good about magnesium, eh?

Come to think about it, I’ll probably still keep my Venge, thank you very much. Virtuous or not. It’s light. And fast. And aero. And beautiful… and whilst made with carbon and chemical epoxies, it’s painted with… erm… you know, paint. Now, should my beautiful Venge break (because carbon won’t burst into flames when wet), well, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens in that event.

Shimano 105 10-speed Vs. 11-speed drivetrains

This is going to be a straight up assessment between the old 10-speed and new(ish) 11-speed Shimano 105 drivetrains… with a little Ultegra mixed in just for fun.

First, if you don’t like reading about bike stuff and you currently have a 105 or Ultegra 10-speed drivetrain, I’ll save you the trouble. Finish this paragraph and be on your way. Stop everything else, immediately. Either hibernate your computer and head over to your local bike shop and have one of the employees order an Ultegra or 105 11-speed drivetrain or, if you can install the set yourself, order one online. Just remember not to take the stuff you bought online to the bike shop. That said, upgrading will be worth every penny if you can reasonably afford those pennies – and there will be a lot of them involved.

If you like to read about bike stuff, let’s continue with the always important why.

Shimano’s 10-speed drivetrains are famously flawed. Or perhaps that’s infamously? How about notoriously?. The simple reality is, the springs in the rear derailleur are reportedly, and quite obnoxiously, too weak so the shifting, when viewed against the 11-speed drivetrain, is suboptimal once the springs start to… erm… get sprung (stretch over time). This isn’t to say the 10-speed is crap, because it isn’t. It’s just not as good as the 11-speed because they worked out the spring tension issue in the eleven speed edition.

How this flaw manifests itself in the 10-speed system is that, once a rear derailleur is “of a certain age”, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep enough friction out of the system enough for the weak spring to allow the drivetrain to shift properly all the way up and down the cassette. You can install brand new cable housings, new end caps, stainless steel cables, new cable liner (at the entrance and exit points of the housing/frame interface points). You can literally do everything right and the derailleur won’t dial in unless the barrel adjuster is dialed in perfectly, within a quarter-turn.

Eventually, that quarter-turn won’t be enough and you’ll need a new derailleur.

Now, for the time being, you can still pick up a 10-speed 105 derailleur but how long this will last is anyone’s guess. You can also pick up a refurbishing kit, something I was supposed to try over the winter but never got around to, that comes with a new spring. I’ve heard refurbishing the rear mech helps considerably.

As I alluded to earlier, this flaw was rectified in the 11-speed drivetrain. My wife has 105 11-speed and I have the 10 on both my Venge and Trek and I can tell you unequivocally, the 11-speed is vastly easier to keep operating smoothly. It’s not a night and day difference, but it’s big enough to notice. Especially when that tensioning spring starts to weaken after 20,000-ish miles.

To wrap this up, go back to the top of the post… once your 10-speed drivetrain starts to wear out, I’d make the jump to 11-speed. It’s worth the headache savings alone.

Road Cycling: Diagnosing and Fixing a Chain Line Issue in a Modern Road Bike (Easily, Quickly, and Permanently).

So, I had an interesting conundrum pop up with the Venge. At the end of last season I bought and installed two new chainrings for the 10 speed drivetrain. I also picked up a new rear derailleur, a cassette (11-28) and a new Dura Ace chain for the refurbishing of the bike as the crankset required some hefty work and new bottom bracket bearings. I figured if I was going to get the bottom bracket fixed, I may as well go all out and really give it the business. I had knockoff SRAM chainrings on both my Specialized Venge and my Trek 5200 that faired quite well but wore out quickly. The rings on the Venge were still quite good but the rings on the Trek started giving me skipping problems when I tried to climb a hill.

I opted for Shimano 105 chainrings so I could have a full Shimano 105 system on the Trek and a 105/Ultegra mix on the Venge.

The change on the Trek was flawless. Not so much on the Venge. For some reason, on the Venge, the new 105 chainrings rode outboard of the knockoff SRAM chainrings they replaced. This meant a chain skip when the bike was shifted to the big chainring and big cog in the back. Now, for those puritans among us, I am quite aware we’re not supposed to cross-chain and ride in that particular gear but I’m also a realist. There will be five or six times a year where I need that one last gear to crest a hill without shifting to the baby ring. I will cross-chain in that situation. Every time. If I’ve got a skip, though, I’m worried about the chain dropping from the big to the little chainring whilst, and at the same time, putting some decent power to the pedals. That just won’t do.

The fix for this is simple, but a little complex. You have to change a lot, simply.

Now, if the chainrings need to move outward, a shim at the crank will work well. If, however, the chain line needs to move in, toward the bike, we’re limited by the crank. The easiest fix is to move the cassette out and to do this I simply added a shim to the cassette body. With the cassette moved out, I had to change the set screws on, at the very least, the rear derailleur, but possibly both front and rear (I did both in this case). If you don’t check the set screws, two very bad things will happen. First, you’ll be able to shift the chain beyond the last, biggest cog into the spokes of your wheel. This can be a costly mistake. So, for the big cassette cog, you adjust the outer set screw for the rear derailleur clockwise to move the pulley wheel outbound so the pulley wheel lines up directly below the biggest cog. To check that it’s out far enough, turn the pedals and shift all the way to the smallest cog. Then, without touching the shifter, turn the pedals slowly and operate the derailleur so the chain slides up the gears to the big cog. If the pulley wheel is set correctly you won’t be able to push the chain beyond the big cog (if you can, be very careful here – if you push the chain into the spokes, the chain will damage them big time which is why you were pedaling slowly). Then you have to adjust the pulley wheel for the smallest cog as well, especially if you’re experiencing a little click that won’t go away when you shift into the smallest cog and the barrel adjuster won’t make it go away – or the adjuster will make the click stop but the bike won’t shift properly in the rest of the gears. For this adjustment, you turn the inner set screw counterclockwise until the jockey wheel is just outboard of that smallest cog.

Then adjust your front derailleur if necessary.

At that point, Bob’s your uncle. Give the bike a spin to make sure the fix is right (there’s a chance you may need to double check the set screw adjustments).

Cycling Stories: Mountain Mayhem, Brutus Road

My friend, Jonathan sent me the following text in response to my announcing our first group ride of the 2022 season this past Saturday, about the note that it was a “no-drop” ride. Now, you have to understand how “no-drop” works in a cycling context, and how that differs in the group I ride with before we get into Brutus Road. A no-drop ride is pretty self-explanatory. The slowest rider who shows up dictates the pace of the ride. They will not be dropped by the group. In the group I ride with, no-drop means “you’d better keep up or you’ll be dropped repeatedly… but allowed to catch up at the next intersection before take off and drop you again”. It’s a little more complicated than a simple “no-drop”, but fast riders gonna be fast. Even on March 5th (in the northern hemisphere). So, Jonathan’s text:

Just wanted to double check, does your sending out [Saturday’s ride] mean you are going to go? Just don’t want to end up riding in the E Group at 14-mph, LOL.

Me: I think I will. Mike is going to want to ride early in the morning when it’s still freezing and I have no desire for that silliness.

Okay. I’ll probably go either way. I can always do a solo TT. 14 is the lowest I can go without falling over.

Me: I’ll see you there. Worst case we ride together and have a good laugh. Oh, I guarantee you can get down to 2-mph. Brutus Road up north. I kid you not. Brutus Road, that’s the freaking name. Mike shut his Garmin down cuz he was going too slow and I passed Phill going 2-mph.

Chuck, Mike, Phill and I were up north (we call the upper lower peninsula “up north” in Michigan. The UP is the upper peninsula of Michigan) for Mountain Mayhem: Beat the Heat Edition. My wife was along for the trip but she didn’t ride. The course featured, as the name would imply, an exceptional amount of climbing, especially for a bunch of down-state flatlanders – about 80-ish’ of up per mile averaged out over the 100 mile ride, and a good deal of it was at the end of the ride. Including the climb I’m about to describe which, if memory serves, was right around 80 miles in.

We were riding along on a mercifully flat stretch when Chuck’s Garmin alerted him we were approaching a turn in a tenth of a mile. The sign read, as we approached, Brutus Road. Now, imagine yourself 80 miles into a hundo called “Mountain Mayhem” and you see “Brutus Road”. Imagine the joy when you look up, literally, and see the hill only looks to be a few hundred yards long. You get down into the granny gear and start up the 18%er. Just as you’re nearing the top and about to breathe a sigh of relief, you see the false crest. The hill keeps going, just at a shallower 12% pitch so it only looked like you were near the top. It’s at this point you and your friends realize you weren’t prepared for this. You were damn-near out of breath just from the initial climb let alone the rest of the monster you still had left to conquer.

Mike’s Garmin was set to shut off for anything below 1.5-mph (something like 2.25 km/h). It beeped at him to let him know he’d stopped. On the way up a hill. I gritted my teeth and steeled my nerves and pushed the pedals. I passed Mike as his Garmin beeped and started reeling Phill in. As I pulled even, I could see 1.5 mph on his computer. Mine said 2. The lactic acid was threatening to seize my leg muscles up but I pushed for the summit. Chuck, a mountain goat in his own right, was far enough ahead I wasn’t going to catch him. Just as I saw the end, I realized that 10%er didn’t end. It just eased to 5%.

Thankfully, however, 5% after what we’d been through, felt like a gift. The hill stretched on for another quarter-mile before we finally hit a bit of a downhill. There was no descent after, we’d climbed out of a valley.

And we laughed about Mike’s Garmin shutting off and Phill seeing just how slow he could go without falling over all the way to the last rest stop. After we caught our breath.

And so was Brutus Road. Forever cemented in my memory.

Venge Day 2022; A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

It’s rare that we get a day good nice enough to want to ride before the 15th of March, so you can imagine how rare it is to not only have a day nice enough I had to ride, let alone nice enough I’d even think about taking the Venge out. That’s exactly what we had yesterday, though. It was 50 (10 C) when the train rolled out at 1 in the afternoon from our meeting place in Lennon. My wife, weary of a slugfest at the afternoon ride, rode with my buddy, Mike – who was also worried about an afternoon slugfest. I can understand why they rode separately, but they rode at 9am when it was still below freezing… there’s no way I was missing out on that 20 degree increase in temp (10 C).

I had a choice to make, though. My Trek 5200 was already prepped and ready to go. It was the right bike for the day… but 50 degrees and rising to 56? And a 1% chance of rain? I went back and forth in my head for two hours. Now, for those who don’t remember the sordid details, I’d just had my Venge operated on at the very tail end of last season; the crankset had to be drilled and tapped and a new connecting bolt installed because the bottom bracket bearings finally gave up. I wanted to see how the bike behaved now that it was fixed. I wanted to put it through the paces of a real ride (I’d gotten the bike back on the very last day of the year that was still reasonable for a short test ride to make sure the crank was quiet).

I probably should have taken the Trek. But I didn’t. As the morning clouds broke and gave way to brilliant sunshine and the temperature went from “cold, but creeping up” to damn-near t-shirt weather, I couldn’t resist.

A group of maybe 14 or 15 of us showed up (Chucker, Jonathan, Pickett, me… Big Joe, Ukulele Dave, Phill, Brad, Mike K, Jim, Sam, Jay, a new lady whose name I didn’t know and another lady who showed up just a few times… I think that was everybody). We rolled out together but quickly split into groups. Pickett, Chucker, Jonathan and I formed the tip of the spear and Mike and Jay held on for several miles. Mike was on a wide-tire gravel bike converted from a mountain bike so there’s no way he was holding on with our group. Jay struggled in the wind but stayed with us for 9 or 10 miles before giving up and taking a shortcut home.

I was feeling quite spectacular, especially with a bunch of tailwind to start. The Venge was amazing. The new bottom bracket bearings were perfect and the S-Works crankset was flawless. The new chain, cassette and chainrings, rear derailleur and stainless steel shifter cables in new housings had the bike shifting like it was brand new – better, even. Still, it took a few miles to get over that wobbly, “first ride off the trainer” feeling. Once through that, it was a party. For about… erm… 18 to 20 miles.

Getting into the hills, things started getting a little rough. We’d started out with the group around a 17-mph average but had crept that up to almost 19 as we got into the hilly section of the ride. We had a bit of a crossing headwind off the right shoulder so the turns up front got a lot shorter. Climbing hills that we normally hit between 19 & 23-mph were hard at 17 – and this had nothing to do with a headwind, all legs. I’d hit that magical “way too early in the season” spot where your legs start to rubberize. I pushed through it, though, and crested the last hill the four of us intact.

Next, we had a fantastic several mile long stretch of tailwind and we made the most of it. Coming over the crest of a small hill, we hit the 3/4-mile slight downhill hard, topping 31-mph and raising our average to well over 19-mph. Even though I was short on breath, all I could think as we shot down the road was, “this is why I ride, right here”. There with three friends, rotating up front like we’d barely missed a beat… it just makes me feel good about being me.

After the last of the tailwind came a fairly brutal five-ish mile stretch into a crossing headwind. It was brutal, only because my energy level was dropping pretty quickly. I’d go from okay to red zone at the front just trying to get over a little molehill. I dropped off the back momentarily with just a couple of miles left but the guys waited a few seconds for me. I caught my breath, caught up, and we pushed for home.

We pulled into the parking lot with a solid 19.2-mph average – excellent for a first ride of the season, and outstanding considering the 10 to 16-mph wind for only the four of us. Turned out, I wasn’t the only one feeling the pain on that ride. Jonathan was right there in the pain cave with me.

We all met up in the parking lot afterward and it was hi-fives and smiles. It was so good to see everyone again – to have something to feel good about, and to be outside after a long winter indoors. It was a great Venge Day for 2022.

Something to Be Stoked About for the Upcoming Cycling Season: DALMAC 2022, Baby!

I got a phone call just last evening that my buddy, Mike A. is signed up for this year’s DALMAC (Dave, you should look into it this year, brother).

DALMAC 2022 is going to be big. We had a big group signed up already, including a couple of guys who haven’t done the tour in years plus a buddy of mine who will be participating for the first time. We’ve got our full normal gang, plus a few – and for the first time in years, I’m really excited for an event – I mean genuine antsy in anticipation.

See, cycling used to simply be about fitness and staying thin and healthy – back when I was riding solo everywhere. Today, while there’s an obvious fitness core, I ride for the comradery. So, when we get a group like this together, well it’ll make for some epic trips to the local ice cream shops. And too many laughs to count.

4 days, 380 miles… and more good times than you can shake a Venge at.

We’re putting the band back together!

Longing for the days of blasting down the road on my Venge….

The Lock Screen and Background photos on my computer are both shots of my Venge.

Normally, I don’t even think about it when I turn my machine on, but about this time every year I can’t help but long for the days of blasting down the road in my finest bibs on the Venge in my favorite red & black Affable Hammers jersey… man, I’m excited for the new season to start.

We’re into the dead of winter, now. It’s ugly and looking worse with morning temps 30 degrees below freezing (that’s -17 C for those speaking European [that’s a joke, of course]). It’s going to be a while before we’re looking at short sleeves, but March is on the horizon and we’ll be able to get outdoors to stretch the legs out pretty soon.

In the meantime, all I can do is go into the bike room and lift the Venge up to feel its featherweight awesomeness. It’s all ready to go, too. New bottom bracket bearings, headset that’s perfectly clean and lubed, new chain, new cassette, new chainrings, new rear derailleur… it’ll feel like a new bike on Venge Day 2022.

Because Nobody Ever Whiskey Throttled a Road Bike… A Funny Cycling Story for a Tuesday.

Several years ago, in July, my brother had his family up from Florida visiting my mom. I had One Helluva Ride early in the morning (100 miles starting in Chelsea, MI and rolling through Hell, MI and back to Chelsea), so I stopped by on the way home to say hello. After a fair amount of conversation, my brother said mom had told him I rode 100 miles with my friends earlier in the day… he asked if I was nuts. I assured him I was quite sane and explained 100 miles on my $6,000 road bike wasn’t quite what he remembered when he drifted back to riding a dozen miles on our 35 pound steel Murray Baja’s back when we were kids. He asked to see it, so I took him out and pulled my amazing race steed from the back of my SUV.

As one would expect, for anyone who thought top of the line was an aluminum mountain bike, his eyes popped open in shock. I offered for him to pick it up (I think it was around 17-1/2 pounds at the time). His jaw dropped. I smiled. He asked if he could give it a spin and I said, “absolutely”.

He threw a leg over the top tube, put a foot on one of the Look pedals as if it were a regular platform pedal, and pushed off to do a lap around the cul-de-sac… and I looked on in sheer horror as he damn near toppled over in the first five feet. He wobbled dramatically, trying to hold on to the intractable steed. It was the ugliest “bike ride” I’d ever seen – the closest I’ve ever seen to whiskey throttling a bicycle. He wobbled around the cul-de-sac a little more, a look of determined panic set across his face… he couldn’t figure out how to put a foot down with the saddle pegged so high. He slowed to a crawl and tilted the bike, putting his right foot out to stop gravity doing its thing… and the gambit worked. Curse words followed, then “How in the f*** did you ride that 100 f***ing miles!”

Note to new cyclists: Jumping from a mountain bike, where the handlebar is a little higher than the saddle to a performance race bike where the saddle is 5″ above the handlebar is a bit of a stretch. Especially when you haven’t ridden a bicycle in 25 years. I would recommend not starting out with the bicycle aimed at a fence.

If you think I’m being silly, just in case, you should probably have someone video tape it. Some $#!+ is worth seeing over and over and over again.

Ride hard, my friends.

Bike Chain Lubes, From Wet to Dry, And Which Is Best, and Where (IMHO)

I’ve used a lot of chain lubes in the last decade. It seems I’m trying a new one every year or two, so I’ve acquired quite the base of knowledge built up on what I want to use, where, and why.

First, much of the cycling world has gone “dry” lately. There are a lot of wax-based lubes out there that have people all buzzed about not having to deal with a grimy chain anymore – myself included. For a while, I used White Lightning Clean Ride chain lube for a time, but the stuff was so dry the drivetrain was noisier than I could tolerate. Then I switched to Finish Line’s Dry Wax Lube and I really didn’t like that for the same reason. Finally, I settled on Squirt Wax Based Dry Chain Lube last year. Now that, I like. It’s a better combination of dry, but not too dry to cause a noisy drivetrain – that is, unless you go on more than a six-hour bike ride – which I’m very much prone to do! The big plus is that it really is clean. I can touch my chain without getting greasy gray lube residue all over my hands. And that, I love. It’s also great on the gravel and mountain bike because there’s nothing for dirt to really “stick” to like a wet lube. Like I wrote earlier, the only down side is having to reapply every six to eight hours of ride time.

I used squirt on our whole fleet last year. Road bikes, gravel bikes, road tandem and mountain bikes. And I went through a lot of it, having to buy two bottles so far. I did get fair chain life, also. Probably a few thousand miles a chain.

Above: That’s a well-cared for chain and cassette using Squirt – but I have a special trick to keep the wax buildup to a minimum. I clean the chain and cassette with a mild degreaser every five or six reapplications. The buildup is actually supposed to be a good thing and the instructions on the bottle recommend leaving it be, but I can’t stand a messy lookin’ drivetrain.

While there’s no question I’ve enjoyed the cleanliness of the wax based lube, I decided to switch back to wet on the road bikes next season. Specifically, to my favorite wet lube of all, and I’ve used a few; Sunlite light spray lube, Boeshield T-9 (technically a dry lube), Finish Line Wet Heavy Duty chain lube, there was another spray lube in there but I can’t remember what… but I’m going back to the crème de la crème of wet bike lubes, Finish Line Ceramic Wet Lube (FLCWL for short, because that’s a lot to type) for the Trek and the Venge. Now, FLCWL is, without question, a messy lube. If you have to touch the chain on the road, you better hope you’ve got a pair of plastic gloves or some grass nearby to wipe your hands on. The stuff gets nasty. However, and this is why I’m going back, if you truly want a whisper-quiet, fast, functionally smooth and perfect drivetrain, Finish Line’s Ceramic Wet Lube is where it’s at. The stuff is slippy. Also, and this is only a minor point, the wax lubes wash off almost instantly in the rain and, on the rain bike, that’s really not a good thing. I was caught in two or three showers last year and the last time convinced me I should be riding a wet lube rather than no lube if I get caught in the rain.

I will, however, stick with Squirt dry lube on the gravel bikes (and possibly Mrs. Bgddy’s road bike if she so chooses because she doesn’t like getting her hands dirty on her chain – I am more than understanding in that regard). Even though the wax lube is vastly superior to any wet lube in terms of cleanliness, there’s no beating a quiet, trouble-free chain that’ll last a full week or two in the heat of the season and you won’t have to worry about if you hit some rain.

Testing My Specialized Venge – Or, How To Make Your Road Bike Feel Like New Again!

So, last night was a little weird. We had 30-mph winds and it was a wonderful 60 degrees, but with the wind whipping like that, and the temperature falling faster the popular opinion of another Covid lockdown, Chuck and I decided to take a night off. Humorously enough, I actually called him back and told him I’d changed my mind, that I’d ride after all, and he told me I was freaking nuts.

And so I was faced with a few choices. I opted right off the bat, not to ride. Then I decided not to ride the Trek on the trainer. Then I got to looking at the Venge after I did some tinkering on my wife’s gravel bike… I haven’t so much as sat on the bike since I got it back from getting new bottom bracket bearings installed. I gave the tires a quick squeeze, they were close enough, then rolled up my right pant-leg and pushed that beautiful steed, fresh with a brand new chain, new 11/28 cassette, new 50/34 chainrings, new rear derailleur, and new shifter cables and housings out the door… and I took it for a quick spin to check the settings and see how the bike shifted.

The derailleur was great shifting up the cassette but slow going back down so I gave it a quick adjustment and… beautiful, quick, easy shifting. Silent perfection. My Venge didn’t feel like new again, it was better than new. I’ve had a better handlebar, better crankset, upgraded shifters and derailleurs, and vastly superior wheels put on the bike since I first brought it home.

The important items were the shifting quality, which was incredible with new cables, housings and a new rear derailleur, then that the crank was smooth again with the new bottom bracket bearings.

I’m stoked for next season already. My Venge is back and better than new.

You’ll have to picture it, but this is me smiling.